Lessons on Leadership from an Upset Parent

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leadership compassAs I write this, it is Thursday morning, and I am coming off of another exhausting night of running games for the Awana program at our church.  I should start by saying that doing that is one of the highlights of my week each week despite the fact that it leaves me thoroughly drained and exhausted.
As I walked into the large gymnasium filled with a couple of hundred kids last night waiting for Awana to officially start, I knew I was in for something.  I didn’t know what, but when you walk by a child with their parent and they start to point at you, you can pretty well be assured that you are in for at least “a conversation.”  Anyhow, as I began to prepare for that evening’s games, a mother approached me and asked to talk for just a second.
Before I tell you about that conversation though, let me back up and tell you about the prior week.  The prior week in Awana had been a hectic one.  It was “BIG” week for one.  The kids were supposed to dress in oversized clothes and we had “advertised” oversized games which left me struggling to come up with something I could play with them.  At our church, we actually do games in thirty minute segments with three different groups of clubbers each ranging from about 60-100 kids.  Due to the makeup (age and gender) of each group, I actually had to come up with different games for each group which always makes thing more hectic than doing the same game for all three groups.   Add to that the fact that the kids had had several snow days in the last couple of weeks (which means more pent up energy), and it was already going to be a long night.  So, when I arrived and found out that none of my three adult helpers was able to make it that night, I was a little worried about how things might go.
We made it through the night rather uneventfully – at least that’s what I thought!  Until last night when a mother approached me to inform me that one of the leaders (not a games leader) had apparently named the teams from last week the “idiots” and something else.  She didn’t encourage that type of “language” at home and wanted to make sure that we weren’t encouraging it in Awana either.  To be honest, I had no idea what she was talking about as I wasn’t aware of the situation until she brought it to my attention.  She was actually quite nice about it, but in that moment I had one of two choices:
1.       I could have gotten defensive, told her about how no one had shown up to help me last week, explained that I couldn’t keep track of what every Awana leader was doing at every second and told her that her son needed to grow a thicker skin; or
2.       I could tell her that I wasn’t aware that it had happened, apologize that it did, and assure her that I would keep my eyes and ears open to try to ensure that it didn’t happen again.
I opted for the second option.  See, Wednesday is kind of like my day “off.”  I get to enjoy time spent with the kids, but I don’t have to bear the weight and responsibility of teaching them God’s Word.  I do that on the weekends.  On Wednesday’s it is much more of a relationship building fun time.  Despite that, my role of Games Director is a leadership position which means that I am responsible for what happens during game time.  Whether or not I was aware of the situation is irrelevant to the fact that it did happen.  Whether or not there were five of us in the room or just me, I still owe parents a responsibility to take care of their kids.  That means it was time for me to step up and take responsibility for something that someone else (that I have no direct control over) did.
The whole incident reminded me of three basic principles of leadership:

  1. You can’t do it all yourself.  I struggle with this as I tend to be an “if you want it done right, do it yourself kind of person.”  Sometimes, you have to ask for help, and when you do it is important that you maintain some oversight.  Finding people who can assist you that you trust is a key to good leadership.  If you don’t find and designate those people yourself, someone will likely step into that role that you have no control over.
  2. A leader has to be humble.  Being a leader is as much about building relationships as anything else.  Sometimes that means you have to swallow your pride and apologize for something you had no control over.  You have to accept that, as a leader, other people’s actions and inaction reflect on you.
  3. Being a leader means being a servant.  Your role as a leader is to serve those you are leading.  In my case, that means the children, the other workers, and the parents who entrust their kids to us each week.  In that light, when a parent or someone else complains, I can view it not as the attack of an outsider but as the insights of someone who I have agreed to serve.  That change in perspective can make all the difference in the world.

So many people profess a desire to lead but also exhibit an unwillingness to accept the responsibility that comes along with it.  As a leader in children’s ministry, your job is not to build yourself up, but to serve those you have chosen to lead.  After all, Jesus himself said:

“…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Matthew 20: 26b-28 ESV]

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